Understanding the role of the Principal Designer in the Building Safety Act

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The introduction of the principal designer role

The recent modifications to the Building Safety Act have introduced significant changes to the role of architects in the UK construction industry.

As per a recent article published by RIBA, Paul Jolly, Technical Director at HKA, analyses the evolving role of architects as Principal Designers under the new regulatory regime​​.

This change is pivotal, given the government’s intention to implement the Building Safety Act 2022, mandating the appointment of two principal duty holders – the Principal Designer and the Principal Contractor – for projects requiring a new Building Regulations application​​.

Key differences in duties

The role of the Principal Designer has evolved from the earlier Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015.

Under CDM, the Principal Designer’s primary duty was to manage the pre-construction phase with a focus on health and safety.

The Building Regulations now require the Principal Designer to oversee the design work during the design phase, ensuring compliance with all relevant requirements, from structural integrity to fire safety​​.

This change is in line with Dame Judith Hackitt’s recommendations for stronger accountability in the construction industry​​.

Increasing responsibilities and opportunities

The RIBA considers this regulatory change as an opportunity for architects to reassert control over the design phase.

However, there’s a concern whether architects are prepared to assume these added responsibilities.

Historical trends show limited uptake of similar roles by architects, with a recent HSE research report indicating only 18% of RIBA members taking up the CDM Principal Designer role​​.

Legal and operational implications

The government’s stance is to have both Principal Designer roles under CDM and Building Regulations performed by the same entity to avoid confusion.

Architects must be fully aware of their duties and wider obligations before accepting these roles​​.

Furthermore, larger, multi-disciplinary firms may find it more viable to undertake complex projects due to their broad spectrum of in-house specialist design knowledge​​.

Insurance and professional standards

The current market conditions pose significant challenges in obtaining appropriate professional indemnity insurance cover.

The government’s amendments require designers to take ‘all reasonable steps’ for compliance, a softer stance than the initially proposed strict liabilities​​.

To support architects, the RIBA has launched a Principal Designer Register, encouraging faster uptake of these roles by architects​​.

Related industry perspectives

Additional insights from the Project Safety Journal reveal the expected structure of duty holders under the new regulations, emphasising the importance of the Principal Designer in managing the design phase and ensuring compliance with the Building Regulations​​.

The competencies required for this role include a deep understanding of the legislative framework, management of design work compliance, and critical assessment skills to ensure the success of design work​​.

IFSJ Comment

The introduction of the Principal Designer role under the Building Safety Act marks a significant shift in the UK construction industry’s approach to building safety and compliance.

It represents a strategic move to centralise responsibility and enhance accountability in design and construction processes.

The role’s focus on compliance, collaboration, and competence underscores a systemic change, aiming for higher standards in building safety.

This development holds potential for architects to reassert their pivotal role in the construction process, but also presents challenges in terms of readiness and adaptation to new responsibilities.

The industry’s response to these changes will be crucial in shaping the future of building safety in the UK.

About the Building Safety Act

The Building Safety Act 2022 is a comprehensive piece of legislation in the UK that aims to improve building safety standards, particularly following the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

It introduces new regulatory frameworks and roles, such as the Principal Designer, to ensure greater accountability and safety in building design and construction.

The Act represents a significant overhaul of building safety regulations, reflecting the government’s commitment to preventing future building safety failures.

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